It’s insane to burn people out in pursuit of dotcoms

Last week a significant new report was published by the Industrial Society
which examines the role of women in the dotcom revolution.  Here, its author Helen Wilkinson presents an
extract which aims to redress the work-life balance

The new economy has foreshadowed a revolution in new ways of working. But on
closer examination, revolution often looks more like evolution. Change has been
slower in coming than many people might have hoped for. Indeed, there is even a
danger that the new economy is intensifying conflict between work and home
rather than relieving it.

These cultural issues will need to be resolved if we are to deliver
e-quality. Technology creates the potential for a greater integration between
work and life than ever before. But in practice, this has been experienced both
as an intensification of work pressure, and of time squeeze.

Until we see the emergence of a saner, and more sustainable start-up
culture, women with family responsibilities will remain disadvantaged. In the
US there are signs of a backlash against dotcom craziness and a new, more sustainable
start-up culture is beginning to emerge.

In Stop the Insanity, new economy magazine Fast Company pinpoints a new
trend. A new generation of dotcom entrepreneurs, it argues, are creating
companies that work without requiring and expecting people to spend every
waking moment at work. The article listed ways to build a saner start- up:

"Forget about those macho, 24-7 firms where staff eat lunch at 5pm,
there’s a futon room for all nighters and the only acceptable work ethic is a
cheery ‘I’m-ready-to-work-myself-to-death’ devotion to the job. Maybe it’s
because the sheer thrill of the start-up is wearing off – particularly for
folks who have been through a lot of them. Or maybe it’s because the
ever-escalating battle for talent is forcing start- ups to become more humane
with their human capital.

"Whatever the reason, a new breed of start-up is emerging – call it the
saner start-ups – and its leaders are paying more than lip service to the idea
that pursuing your business dreams shouldn’t mean destroying your personal
life."

Saner start-ups are abolishing many of the rituals that have come to define
the life of an Internet entrepreneur. "You don’t want to be burning and
churning your people. It’s counter-productive," commented one interviewee.

In today’s 24-hour dotcom economy, free time is rapidly becoming as valuable
as stock options – especially as the value of shares tumbles – and the new
currency to recruit and retain the brightest and the best. Such a culture
augurs well for those with families, relationships and a life outside work. It
also prefigures more radical business thinking – where the boundaries between
the public and the private are once again blurred, and where web entrepreneurs
can leverage flexibility between work and the rest of life to deliver tangible
value, and enhanced productivity.

Jayne Buxton, co-founder of Flametree, an Internet business focused on
delivering work-life solutions for working mothers, is consciously trying to
recreate a new kind of start- up culture and boasts several part-timers. She
says, "It was tempting to fall into the idea that you have to burn people
out to succeed. But that’s the male model of internet business. It doesn’t have
to be ours."

This is an extract from Dot Bombshell: Women, e-quality and the New
Economy published by the Industrial Society Futures Division, www.indsoc.co.uk/futures.

Helen Wilkinson is founder of Genderquake, www.gender-quake.com, the first
advocacy, research and consultancy dedicated to feminising the new economy. She
is also founder of www.elancentric.com

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